Grief will hit you like a bear, and you’ll wake up in a wilderness you’ve never seen.
Well-intentioned people will tell you how to grieve, even if they’ve never grieved themselves. They will deny the severity of your pain, tell you it will be okay, tell you it will pass. They’ll mess with your mind.
Men are told not to cry when their wives die, except once at their funerals. Women are told to pull it together when their babies are born still. Young people are told to put on clothes they never wear for their best friend’s funeral, and then eat casseroles and gelatin desserts at the reception afterwards. Rebel.
You know how you need to grieve. Put on your boots and hike to the top of a mountain. Take something that reminds you of your friend and leave it in a scenic spot. Light a mantel of candles to honor each aspect of your beloved’s life. Whatever it is, do what you feel is right.
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The death of someone you love is the hardest thing you will ever have to face. Do not hide your grief. Do not pretend your heart isn’t ripped out. Cry when you go shopping and see the pears she loved. Wear black clothes. Get a tattoo.
People will allow 30 days to grieve. Your place of work might give you a week. Then people expect you to shut up. Rebel against their timelines. They don’t know what is pounding every hour on your heart.
Rebel against your own expectations. Grief will last for as long as it lasts, and it isn’t going to be logical. But it will lead you through death’s dark, winding labyrinth.
If your friends stop returning your calls, find others who are grieving. Invite them to a dinner where everyone wants to talk about their journey through grief. Build a new community.
The hard truth is that grief is not going to go away, but with the help of others, you can learn to live with it.
People don’t want to hear how torn up you are by grief because they’re scared they will be in your shoes one day. They need to learn what grief is. Tell them.
Do not go quietly into the night.
Mark Liebenow’s work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and named a notable essay by Best American Essays 2012. His account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with grief, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press.
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